From the Columbian Exchange to Ebola and Food Insecurity

In my history class, we recently reviewed the Columbian Exchange which allowed the spread of nutritious foods, but also disease. When this exchange began around 1500 the New World was introduced to bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits, vegetables, and grains. This new nutritious diet caused a dramatic increase in population and lifespan. At the same time, however, diseases spread across the seas, infecting individuals with no inborn immunity. Small Pox alone killed over 90% of the Native American population. As time went on, however, the medical field advanced, vaccinations and antibiotics were developed, reducing human’s fear of infectious disease when traveling.

Recently, this fear of disease has been reestablished with the sudden outbreak of Ebola. Originating in Western Africa, in March of this year, the disease quickly spread within the continent and even reached across the Atlantic Ocean to America. With a fatality rate approaching 90% (like Small Pox) this highly contagious disease has the potential to infect up to 20,000 individuals before the outbreak is gotten under control. Furthermore, though the initial symptoms are flu-like, vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding follow, causing a painful death.

Sitting in a developed nation with top medical facilities and health insurance, I often fail to comprehend to fatality of any disease that isn’t cancer or cardiovascular-related. Though the news had daily coverage of the outbreak, the seriousness only hit me in October. As I was getting ready for the World Food Prize conference, I examined the weekend agenda and was thrilled to see that the President of Sierra Leon would be the keynote speaker the first morning. The day before I went to the conference, however, I was informed that the President would be giving a live video-cast, unable to leave his Ebola-stricken country and fearing further spread of the disease.

Later that weekend I learned the impact of Ebola on food-insecurity. The Ebola crisis hit just as harvest season began in West Africa. The reduced number of healthy workers left many fields to rot. To make matters worse, many ports were closed to prevent any further spread of the disease, causing the price of cassava (a staple crop) to increase by 150% in Monrovia, Liberia. This crisis has led to over 1.3 million individuals in need of food assistance.

So, I guess this blog is my way of telling you not to discredit the serious issues in our world. Diseases that I stopped fearing, trusting the medical advances of the day, are rebounding and claiming thousands of lives. Travel is not always a fun adventure, it can be dangerous and serious precaution must be taken.

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